KOH2RVA: Day 323

overflowing-cupI like to go to church
I like to go to church.
I like the happy songs we sing,
I like to go to church.

I don’t know when I learned that song but I was humming it as I walked home from church yesterday. It had been a good morning in worship, with an emphasis on prayer that pervaded the entire service and made me want to say, “Amen!”

And speaking of prayer…

Since I started talking about the missional church at First Baptist five years ago there has been some discussion about where that mission takes place—inside or outside the building. Sometimes the people who are on mission inside the building—teaching Sunday school, working with children’s choirs, serving Wednesday night supper—complain that all the attention is being focused on the mission outside the building—helping the homeless, building Habitat houses, and tutoring in the elementary schools.

Well of course it’s not either/or, it’s both/and, but in an effort to get us thinking outside the walls of the church and get us working in the community I have necessarily drawn attention to that part of our mission, and the church has responded enthusiastically, so enthusiastically that in my less faithful moments I begin to wonder if there will be anybody left inside the building to sing the hymns or teach Sunday school.

So, here’s the prayer I’m praying these days:

Lord, I want you to fill up the pews of this church until they are overflowing with people who love you and love to sing your praises.

I want you to fill up the offering plates until they are overflowing with gifts given back to you in tearful gratitude.

I want you to fill up the classrooms with disciples who are eager to learn, leaning forward in their seats, open Bibles on their laps.

I want you to fill up the hallways with people who greet each other with hugs and laughter, where every Sunday feels like a family reunion.

I want you to fill their hearts with love, fill their souls with faith, fill their minds with truth, and fill their lives with every good thing you have to give until it overflows this building and spills out onto the streets of this city and into every surrounding suburb.

I want you to pour yourself out through your people until your Kingdom comes, and your will is done, in Richmond as it is in heaven.

Now, that’s the kind of prayer that gets at the “both/and” problem, and gets at it in a Kingdom way.  There is no lack of abundance in God’s kingdom.  We don’t have to choose between being on mission inside the building or outside.

We can do both.


Blushing with Pride

I’ve got to hand it to the members and friends of Richmond’s First Baptist Church.

On the first Sunday in October I stood in the pulpit and told them we had a budget deficit of nearly $200,000.  And then I said:

“In a church this size that’s not necessarily a cause for alarm, and frankly, given the state of the economy, it could be much more.  Still, it is a cause for concern, and we need to catch up.  When there’s not enough money people begin to talk about cutting programs or staff, and I don’t think any of us want that.  So, we’re going to take up a special offering on November 6 to catch up on our giving, but please don’t feel that you have to wait for that day to give.  If you’ve fallen behind in your own giving over the summer this might be the perfect day to write a check or click the link on our website that lets you give online

“People often tell me that if everybody would only tithe we would have enough money, and I agree.  If everybody would tithe—that is, if everybody would give 10 percent of their income back to God through the church—we would have more than enough money, even in times like these.  But everybody doesn’t tithe.  In fact I heard recently that in the average church some 40 percent of the congregation gives nothing at all.  To be fair to those people I don’t think it’s because they are greedy, I think it’s because they are afraid—afraid that if they give even ten percent of their income back to God there won’t be enough for them. 

I can sympathize with those people, especially in times like these, but let me remind you that in the Christian faith there is no place for that kind of fear.  We believe that everything we have comes from a good and loving God who has poured out his love upon us with such abundance we can never thank him enough.  To give back ten percent seems like a tiny thing compared to what he’s done for us; it really is only a token of our gratitude.  Not to give it is to say that we don’t really believe God can provide for our needs, and that we trust ourselves more than we trust him to handle our money. 

“That is a faithless and fearful response. 

“So let me ask you to look toward November 6 with more faith and less fear, in fact, let your gift on that day be a gift of fearless love.”

On every Sunday in the month of October I made a similar appeal, being reminded along the way that some people don’t give simply because they have lost their jobs, they have no income, and ten percent of nothing is nothing.  It’s not because they are fearful or faithless.   

That point was well taken.

Still, on November 6 those who could give did.  They came down the aisles and dropped their offerings into baskets at the front of the sanctuary and the rear of the balcony.  I was moved to see young people and old people, wealthy people and poor people, people who are long-time members and people who aren’t members at all shuffling forward to give.  In the end we took up a “Fearless Love” offering of $228,000, which means that in this Sunday’s bulletin we will show a budget surplus of $11,555.

I’m blushing with pride, and I spent a good bit of my time at this week’s annual meeting of the Baptist General Association of Virginia talking to other pastors and bragging on a church that rises to a challenge as magnificently as any I have ever known. 

Thank you, First Baptist, for your faithful and fearless love.

Why Not Here Indeed?

Just an update:

On Thursday, October 28, I sent this letter out to the congregation:

Dear members and friends of First Baptist:

For the past few weeks I’ve been telling you that the church in America is in trouble. It is.  But I’ve also been telling you that I’m not worried—not worried about the church of Jesus Christ in the world, that is.  If it dies out in one place it will spring up in another; if it falters in this country it will flourish in places like Asia, Africa, and Latin America.  In fact, it is: 

  • 28,000 people a day are coming to Christ in China
  • A dozen new churches are being started each week in Cuba
  • Church growth in some parts of Africa is exploding

My question to you has been:  “If the church is going to thrive somewhere, why not here?”

By any standard of measurement First Baptist is already a thriving church.  But I am convinced now more than ever that our nation needs a church like this one, and for that reason I’m asking you to do everything in your power to keep it thriving. I want you to come, and pray, and give, and serve.

This Sunday, October 31, we will take up the offering at the end of the service,  inviting those in attendance to come forward and lay their gifts on the altar. You may know that we are currently more than $200,000 behind in our budget giving, largely due to the economy.  Suppose we took up an offering of $250,000 this Sunday, or $500,000, or even a million dollars.  Think of how that would change our outlook. For that reason I’m asking you to give generously, sacrificially, this Sunday. I’d like for us to prove that this is one of the places in the world where the church of Jesus Christ is going to thrive.

With gratitude for your partnership in the gospel,

Jim Somerville, Senior Pastor

On Sunday, October 31, the members and friends of First Baptist came, and they brought their offerings with them.  At the end of the service they streamed forward and laid their gifts on the altar.  Sometime that afternoon I got a call from Billy Burford, church administrator, who told me they were still counting, but thought the offering would be over $200,000.  By Tuesday morning the total had reached $221.867.76.  By Tuesday afternoon it was $234,546.00.  I’m writing this on Wednesday morning and wondering if we’re through counting.  I have this funny feeling that if I walk to work one of our homeless neighbors might give me money for the offering.

I can’t tell you how proud if am of the church, or how encouraged by this outpouring of generosity.  It has the marks of God’s blessing all over it, as if the windows of heaven had been opened, and his goodness came raining down.  Maybe he knows how much Richmond needs a strong and healthy church.  Maybe he’s just trying to help us get ready for the next big thing.